Nottingham Outdoor YHA Group

Event report

Llangollen, March 2011

On the weekend: Rob, Karen, Kevin (scribe), Mel, Dave V, and Tim.

Although we weren't staying in the old YHA hostel, now sadly closed, I was much looking forward to this weekend in Llangollen. Following a memorable school trip in 1984, I had not returned, and I was to regret not having done so in 27 years. Llangollen is a fantastic base, surrounded by hills, ruined castle, canal walks, and a steam railway and with some great pubs and cafés. (And I'm sure there's much more).

Statue of Owain Glyndwr, Corwen

My account of the weekend begins with me enjoying a fine pint of Elsie Mo in the Vat & Fiddle, wondering where Dave and Tim have got to. The phone rings.

"Where are you?" It's Dave.

"I'm in the pub" I reply.

"We're outside".

I quickly finish my beer, gather up my luggage and head off into the warmish March evening, through the drinking throng enjoying slightly unseasonal weather. We're soon studying a road atlas and discussing possible routes, as North Wales always presents unusual options. Will it be the A50, the A5 or even the M6? We agree on the A50 followed by a cross-country drive which seems to take forever.

On arrival we find the back door unlocked and nobody about, so we make ourselves at home. An impressive kitchen, a comfortable lounge; but by far the best thing is the dormitory. Or more specifically, the beds, which are already made!! Yes, not having to negotiate a round of the Krypton Factor is most welcome. A second car arrives, bringing Rob, Karen and Mel, and our group is assembled. We cross the River Dee to investigate a local hotel bar, The Bridge End, and talk quietly about tomorrow's football match between Wales and England, among other things. The Robbo's (Robinsons) Unicorn goes down nicely. At some point that evening, we learn that Rob has met with a member of the hostel staff and that a stag group is also staying!

Next morning we learn that Rob has made contact with the stag group, one of which has warned him that Nottingham is a dangerous place, in particular the arboretum area. We chuckle and bear that in mind. Saturday is a linear walk from Corwen, which looks a long way away on the map. While the others wait at the bus-stop, I pop into an inviting bakery and snap up some more provisions, including a couple of large pork pies, one of which was to be carried all weekend, ending up in my Gran's fridge back in Notts. We catch a bus and head out west.

The walk back to Llangollen is not quite a classic due to mist and low cloud, but at least we stay fairly dry and glimpse some views. I soon learn that Rob and Karen like to leave the paths to take more direct routes to the summits through heather. After one particular summit, which I'm guessing was Cerrig Coediog or Moel Fferna, Rob realises that he's lost his compass, and goes back up the hill to retrieve it! What a trooper. Rob, I reckon you did that deliberately to give yourself another climb. The lunch stop I remember being damp and not very comfortable, but the food and drink is much needed by this point. We head back east along the North Berwyn Way, over Vivod Mountain, from which we have a brief view of our destination and the ruined Castell Dinas Bran on the hill beyond. On returning to Llangollen we pile into a café bookshop where the welcome is not quite as warm as the very nice coffee. I have a brief chat with a friendly, elderly man bemoaning the state of Welsh football; it sounds like England won.

That evening was to be very special; a four-course meal prepared by Mel and Karen. Veg and dips followed by a gorgeous tuna pasta salad, a crumble and cheeseboard. A big thanks for that, it was a very enjoyable group meal.

Replete, we quietly chill-out in another local pub, The Corn Mill, alive with Saturday night activity. I have to thank everyone for a very relaxed evening in good company. Llangollen seems a decent place to spend an evening out, with some interesting characters lining the streets as we return to the hostel.

Earlier we'd learned to expect the stag group back in the small hours from a journey north-east, possibly Chester, but I slept right through any noise they might have made.

No travelling required the next morning as we walk east from the hostel along the Shropshire Union Canal (well, the towpath - it isn't that cold), in what is much better weather than the previous day. It's a beautiful morning and we pass lots of brightly painted narrowboats in what is left of the morning mist; very atmospheric. We reach the interestingly named town of Trevor (Welsh for 'large settlement') and a dramatic sight that I recall from my previous visit on a school trip in 1984: The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

A tea and comfort break is followed by a nervous walk across with a hot chocolate in one hand. Railing to the left, narrow walkway, canal to the right, no railing on the other side; stunning views but I don't remember it being quite as hair-raising to walk along, in particular when passing someone coming in the other direction. I turn around to glance at Tim a few steps behind, and feel slightly dizzy; just keep walking! And when we get to the other side, we get to walk back again! Built by Thomas Telford, it's now a World Heritage Site. It must be strange to be on a narrowboat with an open drop to one side, I wouldn't fancy it myself. Despite the drama it brings back memories of old school friends and teachers, and I remember the area very well.

On Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

We descend briefly into the Vale of Llangollen, by the River Dee, but are soon climbing out again and heading west along the famous Offa's Dyke Path, running above and north of the canal. This section is named Panorama Walk, and what great views! Below Trevor Rocks we receive an interesting geology lesson from Tim (seriously) about fossils and the dinosaurs not dying out. Just when I think we're reaching the end of the walk with Llangollen in sight, the climax to the weekend is a walk up to Castell Dinas Bran and group photos amid the ruins. It's a great location, fairly busy, and I think to myself a good place to spend a day chilling on a clear summer's day. The final climb was worth it as we look down into Llangollen.

Soon we are relaxing in another café, taking refreshments, thinking about two great days of exploring the surroundings of Llangollen and the long journey home. Big thanks to Dave V for getting Tim & me there and back and to Mel and Rob who seemed to do most of the map reading. We choose the A5 and A38 for the return which to me seems even longer, but allows plenty of time to recover. Looking forward to my next visit to Llangollen.

Kevin F

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